By Monica Mincu, University of Turin, Italy.
A key role to promoting educational quality is played by teachers and thus it is important to note how much “training teachers matters” when it comes to achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4. In fact, the idea of quality is explicitly used in SDG4 and it is specified in target 4c – the percentage of teachers with minimum training – as “deploying qualified teachers”. While quality needs to be both understood in terms of academic and training qualifications, the proposed global indicator focuses on training rather than academic qualification. In addition, the number of trained teachers is a concern globally, either in absolute numbers – 1 in 4 primary teachers in half of the countries considered by the Global Education Monitoring Report were not trained – or as their distribution across schools and types of unavailable specialisation. At the same time, short-term contract teachers form a large proportion of the teaching staff (Chudgar et al. 2014). In fact, the number of short-term contract teachers is increasing at a similar pace as the use of more school-based initial preparation as an alternative path into the profession (Mincu, 2017). The quality of teaching and the availability of good training on innovative and effective pedagogies in low and middle income countries is therefore an important issue to be tackled. Important questions to consider include: Which teaching approaches are in use? Is structured teaching purposefully used with more socio-economically disadvantaged groups? Are constructivist approaches, such as personalisation, adequately used with older and more able pupils, but also in the correct order and in alternation with direct instruction? We also need to question the type and quality of teacher training provision, because if alternative preparation paths may be preferable to untrained contract-teachers, and these may be the “only feasible solution” (UNESCO 2006, 55) there is a need to identify specific good practices. So, what types of alternative training have proved to be of good quality in more difficult and poorer contexts? In this blog post, I will offer some examples from the area of teacher quality and the relevance of teacher training to improve education and achievement from an equity perspective, based upon a research review of teacher quality and school improvement and the particular role that research knowledge and evidence-based research may play in this field (see Mincu, 2015).
It is well known that effective teaching represents a unique protective factor that may reduce and even close the achievement gap and that it is especially pertinent for underperforming students and for those schools in more challenging contexts. Teaching quality and expectations are key issues, as well as curriculum coverage, instructional approaches and the provision of good quality feedback to students to identify the educational needs of lower achievers. Most important, it should be noted that the development of meta-cognition appears to be particularly relevant for closing or narrowing the gap between low achievers, including minority students, and high achievers.
Schiebelbein and McGinn (2017) consider that metacognition is essentially about “the reflection on, or thinking about how we are learning and thinking” (p.41) and, quite interestingly, it is suggested to be closely related to a key “soft-skill” such as the self-awareness, and more broadly to the very building of the personhood. In fact, while research recommends structured teaching (e.g. direct instruction) as an appropriate strategy and particularly beneficial for low achievers, teachers shouldn’t narrowly focus on basic skills and knowledge. Meta-cognitive strategies linked to cognitive acceleration show great effects (Higgins and colleagues, 2005) and are especially beneficial for less able students who might otherwise have difficulty monitoring and self-regulating their own learning’ (Leithwood et al., 2010, p. 612). Therefore, a quality teacher preparation is likely to enhance the ability of the teacher to support the development of students’ metacognitive processes (see for instance Zohar, 1999). As such, quality cannot be achieved withouth possessing a wide repertoire of teaching strategies, extending students’ knowledge and promoting meta-cognitive skills, which in turn requires research-based teacher education and reflection on professional practice (Mincu, 2015).
Moreover, good teachers are effective in different ways with different pupils, and such differential effectiveness must be cultivated through quality training as well as through their immediate working contexts, such as teaching teams and subject-based departments, which contribute more to differential teacher effectiveness than the schools themselves. If we are to promote quality teaching and teachers, findings of importance in more developed contexts need to find their way into more challenging school contexts in the poorest parts of the world. Links with the wider school environment are also highly relevant: while school leadership may enhance teacher quality through professional development, the possibility to further develop locally is usually conditioned by the availability of some form of initial preparation before entering the role, to access a critical mass of necessary pedagogical knowledge. If we are to seriously consider a “concept of meaningful access” and thus education quality itself, we cannot leave these questions unanswered on the premise that more demanding economic and quantitative progress should be in place first. Thus, the challenge for the community of scholars and practitioners is to share more widely the local solutions available to tackle education quality in general and teacher quality in particular. This can be a viable way to effectively address the quality of teachers, their preparation and their teaching in very poor countries.
Mincu, M. (2017). Tensions between training and teaching in School Direct Salaried: alternative preparation under market accountability in England. Paper presented at the CIES conference Atlanta.
Schiefelbein, E. and McGinn, N. (2017). Learning to educate. Proposals for the reconstruction of education in developing countries. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers & IBE UNESCO.
Monica Mincu is an Associate Professor in comparative education at the University of Turin (Italy) and an advisor to the Fondazione per la Scuola, active in the area of school improvement. Her work is focused on European school systems, teacher education, school improvement and change. She has also conducted research on Communist countries and rural education in Eastern Europe. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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